Childhood asthma is the same lung disease adults get, but kids often have different symptoms. Doctors also call this pediatric asthma.
If your child has asthma, their lungs and airways can easily get inflamed when they have a cold or are around things like pollen. The symptoms may make it hard for your child to do everyday activities or sleep. Sometimes, an asthma attack can result in a trip to the hospital.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Asthma
Not all children have the same asthma symptoms. A child may even have different symptoms from one episode to the next. Signs and symptoms of asthma in children include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away (which may be the only symptom)
- Coughing spells that happen often, especially during play or exercise, at night, in cold air, or while laughing or crying
- A cough that gets worse after a viral infection
- Less energy during play
- Avoiding sports or social activities
- Trouble sleeping because of coughing or breathing problems
- Rapid breathing
- Chest tightness or pain
- Wheezing, a whistling sound when breathing in or out
- Seesaw motions in their chest (retractions)
- Shortness of breath
- Tight neck and chest muscles
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble eating, or grunting while eating (in infants)
Causes and Triggers of Childhood Asthma
Common triggers include:
- Airway infections. This includes colds, pneumonia, and sinus infections.
- Allergens. Your child might be allergic to things like cockroaches, dust mites, mold, pet dander, and pollen.
- Irritants. Things like air pollution, chemicals, cold air, odors, or smoke can bother their airways.
- Exercise. It can lead to wheezing, coughing, and a tight chest.
- Stress. It can make your child short of breath and worsen their symptoms.
Childhood Asthma Risk Factors
Asthma is the leading cause of long-term illness in children. It affects about 7 million kids in the United States. Those numbers have been going up, and experts aren’t sure why.
Most children have their first symptoms by age 5. But asthma can begin at any age.
Make an appointment with your child’s doctor if you notice:
- Coughing that is constant, is intermittent or seems linked to physical activity
- Wheezing or whistling sounds when your child breathes out
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
- Complaints of chest tightness
- Repeated episodes of suspected bronchitis or pneumonia
When to seek emergency treatment
In severe cases, you might see your child’s chest and sides pulling inward as he or she struggles to breathe. Your child might have an increased heartbeat, sweating and chest pain. Seek emergency care if your child:
- Has to stop in midsentence to catch his or her breath
- Is using abdominal muscles to breathe
- Has widened nostrils when breathing in
- Is trying so hard to breathe that the abdomen is sucked under the ribs when he or she breathes in
Even if your child hasn’t been diagnosed with asthma, seek medical attention immediately if he or she has trouble breathing. Although episodes of asthma vary in severity, asthma attacks can start with coughing, which progresses to wheezing and labored breathing.
Asthma can cause a number of complications, including:
- Severe asthma attacks that require emergency treatment or hospital care
- Permanent decline in lung function
- Missed school days or getting behind in school
- Poor sleep and fatigue
- Symptoms that interfere with play, sports or other activities
Careful planning and avoiding asthma triggers are the best ways to prevent asthma attacks.
- Limit exposure to asthma triggers. Help your child avoid the allergens and irritants that trigger asthma symptoms.
- Don’t allow smoking around your child. Exposure to tobacco smoke during infancy is a strong risk factor for childhood asthma, as well as a common trigger of asthma attacks.
- Encourage your child to be active. As long as your child’s asthma is well-controlled, regular physical activity can help the lungs to work more efficiently.
- See the doctor when necessary. Check in regularly. Don’t ignore signs that your child’s asthma might not be under control, such as needing to use a quick-relief inhaler too often.
Asthma changes over time. Consulting your child’s doctor can help you make needed treatment adjustments to keep symptoms under control.
- Help your child maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can worsen asthma symptoms, and it puts your child at risk of other health problems.
- Keep heartburn under control. Acid reflux or severe heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) might worsen your child’s asthma symptoms. He or she might need over-the-counter or prescription medications to control acid reflux.
The following are tests your child might need.
- Lung function tests (spirometry). Doctors diagnose asthma with the same tests used to identify the disease in adults. Spirometry measures how much air your child can exhale and how quickly. Your child might have lung function tests at rest, after exercising and after taking asthma medication.
Another lung function test is brochoprovocation. Using spirometry, this test measures how your lungs react to certain provocations, such as exercise or exposure to cold air.
- Exhaled nitric oxide test. If the diagnosis of asthma is uncertain after lung function tests, your doctor might recommend measuring the level of nitric oxide in an exhaled sample of your child’s breath. Nitric oxide testing can also help determine whether steroid medications might be helpful for your child’s asthma.
Allergy tests for allergic asthma
If your child seems to have asthma that’s triggered by allergies, the doctor might recommend allergy skin testing. During a skin test, the skin is pricked with extracts of common allergy-causing substances, such as animal dander, mold or dust mites, and observed for signs of an allergic reaction.
- Worse in mouldy, damp environments.
- An allergy or sensitivity to moulds, mildew and rotting leaves.
- Exertion and ascending tend to aggravate their symptoms
- The combination of obesity and asthma indicates that Blattaorientalis is a remedy worth considering.
- Asthma is associated with nausea and/or vomiting
- Ipecac is used as an expectorant in the treatment of bronchitis or croup
- Constant cough with gagging and vomiting.
- The chest may rattle
- Worse in warm humid weather and that heat generally makes her feel worse.
- Prefer sitting up by an open window to get some air. The hands and feet are cold and perspire profusely.
- Ipecac is recognized as a remedy for childhood asthmatic crisis.
- Feels that you are not getting enough air into your lungs.
- Lead to hysteria and panic.
- Panic can lead to working unnecessarily hard to breathe and this can result in “over-inflation” of the lungs.
- Feels a sensation of constriction or a lump in the chest.
- Drafts and cold or damp tend to make the asthma worse while slow deep breathing make it better.
- Rapid walking also improves things.
- used as an expectorant.
- useful in children and in the elderly, especially where the asthma is associated with infection and a lot of mucus.
- The mucus causes a coarse, wet sounding rattling noise both on breathing in and out.
- better when he is fanned but he also might be rather irritable and wish to be left alone.
- worse from heat and lying,
- The patient wakes up in the night with a frightening sensation of suffocation
- Blueness of the face
- Severe spasms of the respiratory airways so it is very frightening.
- Worse at midnight or from midnight to 3am.
- Complaints associated with marked perspiration, especially on waking.
- Asthma in both children and adults.
- The asthma may stop at puberty and reappear later from the 30s onwards.
- The asthma may even appear in association with a period of grief.
- Worse at 4am or between 4 and 5am. Damp weather – be it cold or warm – makes it worse, as does fog and storms.
- Childhood asthma, particularly where asthma and eczema may also be combined.
- The shortness of breath is reputed to be better when the child kneels on the bed curled up with the chest touching the knees (knee-chest position).
- Wet weather makes the asthma worse but being at the seaside improves it.
- This is a useful remedy for asthma sufferers as it helps build up the immune system to try to prevent recurrent colds and chest infections which may precipitate asthma attacks.